Week Three: Ninth Anniversary Fund-Raising Drive for Behind the Black
 

It is now the third week in my annual anniversary fund-raising campaign for Behind the Black.


Please consider donating. I am trying to avoid advertising on this website, but will be forced to add it if I do not get enough support from my readers. You can give a one-time contribution, from $5 to $100, or a regular subscription for as little as $2 per month. Your support will be deeply appreciated, and will allow me to continue to report on science and culture freely.


Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:

Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:


 

If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
 
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652

 

Scroll down for new updates.

Apollo 11 First Stage liftoff

An evening pause: This was originally posted as an evening pause in 2016. I think that today, the fiftieth anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11, it is appropriate to repost it. As I wrote then,

Though the video is more than 8 minutes long, the actual events recorded lasted only about 30 seconds, beginning 5 seconds before T minus 0.

What struck me most as I watched this was the incredible amount of complex engineering that went into every single small detail of the rocket and the launch tower and launchpad. We tend to take for granted the difficulty of rocket engineering. This video will make you appreciate it again.

It is also mesmerizing. A lot happens in a very short period of time.

Tonight’s evening pause begins eight days of pauses dedicated to celebrating, and reliving, the Apollo 11 mission. To the Moon!

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Protesters continue to block construction of TMT

For the second day in a row protesters have blocked construction vehicles from accessing Mauna Kea to begin construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT).

As I expected, the Hawaiian government (entirely Democratically controlled) is reluctant to enforce the law against these protesters. David Ige, the governor, is trying to have it both ways. He mouths support for the law and the telescope, which has the support of the public, but then lets the protesters control the situation and block construction.

Unless something changes, which I doubt, do not expect TMT to ever be built in Hawaii.

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Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of makng the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

 
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.


He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

 
Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.

Apollo 11 in real time

Link here. I should have posted this link earlier. As I post this the Saturn 5 has just launched.

Pick your moment. They will be showing the mission in real time over the next week.

Hat tip Steve Golson for prompting me.

Correction: If you go to the link you can either choose to watch from one minute before launch, or click on the “Now” button to see the status at this moment fifty years ago.

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A lunar crater wall two miles high

Giordano Bruno crater

Cool image time! Considering this week is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, it seems appropriate to show some cool images from the Moon.

Today the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team released a spectacular oblique image of Giordano Bruno crater. The image on the right is cropped and very significantly reduced to post here. It looks across the crater, with the near rim across the bottom of the picture and the wall of the far rim filling the photograph’s top half.

That wall is what makes this image cool. It is a cliff about 10,000 feet high, equaling almost two miles. Moreover, at its base is a now-solidified melt pool left over from the impact that made the crater.

Faster than a speeding bullet – or rather ten times faster than a speeding bullet – is a good starting point in terms of grasping the energy released in a typical impact event. That is, for a bullet approaching 2 kilometers in diameter! The pressure and heat that were released during the collision not only excavated a hole much larger than the impactor but also melted a tremendous amount the target rock. Melt was sprayed and sloshed on the forming crater walls where much of it flowed back, seeking the lowest point in the impact crater. From the LROC vantage point you can follow the path taken by impact melt as it flowed across the irregular floor, ponding in closed depressions, and some of it ultimately reaching the lowest point.

Below the fold is a much higher resolution section of this photograph, focused on the crater wall and the melt pool. I have still been forced to reduce the resolution somewhat to post it here. Along that cliff wall can be seen partial avalanches (the dark splotch near the center) as well boulder tracks with the boulders (probably larger than most houses) still visible as white spots at the wall’s base.

The scale here is difficult to imagine. This cliff wall is three times as high as The Abyss, the steepest single drop viewpoint along the south rim of the Grand Canyon.
» Read more

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Genesis cover

Want to learn the inside story of the Apollo lunar landing, now celebrating its 50th anniversary? Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

 
The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit.

 
The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.
 

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs." --San Antonio Express-News

Update on Europe’s Galileo GPS-type constellation failure

Link here. Key quote:

A new source has told Inside GNSS that the ongoing Galileo outage “…has to do with the Precise Time Facility (PTF), a redundant facility present in both Italian and German control centers.” This is the second source close to the program who has identified the PTF as the focus of the incident. Our source adds, “Incidentally, the redundancy apparently did not work.” So, the suggestion is that both PTFs, at two separate European locations, have failed. And, our source adds, “Take into account that the two major outages in the last two years were also caused by problems in the PTF. There are major architectural problems within the GMS [Galileo Mission Segment] under Thales Alenia Space…responsibility.” [emphasis mine]

The article does not go into any details how it is possible for two redundant facilities to fail at the same time. It does note however that while the U.S.’s GPS, Russia’s Glonass, and China’s Beidou systems all are operated by the military, which takes very seriously security, Europe’s Galileo is not.

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Chandrayaan-2 launch scrub caused by leak in helium bottle

Engineers today announced that the July 14 scrub of India’s Chandrayaan-2 lunar orbiter/lander/rover was caused by a leak in a helium bottle in the GSLV rocket.

“The good news is that we can fix the leak without dismantling the rocket, since there is an access door to the gas bottle which is atop the oxygen tank,” a senior scientist told TOI. “The bad news is that unless we ascertain the reason for the leak, there is a probability of the problem recurring.” Not having to dismantle means Chandrayaan-2 may be able to fly before the end of the July launch window, but a final failure analysis will be available only in a day or two.

Sources told TOI that the leak wasn’t serious enough to impair the flight, but Isro decided to apply “abundant caution,” given the importance of the Rs 978-crore project that would make India only the fourth country – after the US, Russia and China – to land a craft on the lunar surface.

I am willing to bet that if their investigation does not pinpoint the cause of the leak in the next few days, they will stand down from the July launch window. This mission, as well as proving the reliability of their GSLV rocket, are both too important to risk on an unknown and unsolved engineering issue.

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Leaving Earth cover

In March I obtained from my former publisher the last 30 copies of the now out-of-print hardback of Leaving Earth. I quickly sold 10, and with only 20 left in stock I am raising the price. To get your own autographed copy of this rare collector's item please send a $75 check (which includes $5 shipping) payable to Robert Zimmerman to
 

Behind The Black, c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652
 

I will likely raise the price again when only ten books are left, so buy them now at this price while you still can!


  Also available as an inexpensive ebook!
 

Leaving Earth: Space Stations, Rival Superpowers, and the Quest for Interplanetary Travel, is now available as an ebook everywhere for only $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit.

 


Winner of the 2003 Eugene M. Emme Award of the American Astronautical Society.

"Leaving Earth is one of the best and certainly the most comprehensive summary of our drive into space that I have ever read. It will be invaluable to future scholars because it will tell them how the next chapter of human history opened." -- Arthur C. Clarke

Modern journalism celebrates Apollo 11, badly

Daily News gets Apollo 11 very wrong

The image on the right came from the twitter feed of the Daily News in New York. It has since been removed, and it is also possible that it was a prank. Nonetheless, in less than fifty words this modern epitome of today’s journalism gets practically everything wrong about Neil Armstrong’s first step on the Moon and the first words he spoke.

John Glenn?

“One giant step for mankind”?

The tweet also calls the moon a “planet”, which I can live with since eventually the definition of a planet will include the Moon. Still, an educated person in this context would have used “world” instead.

I can’t imagine the level of incompetent education someone would have to go through to write this and not realize how much of it is embarrassingly wrong. Nor can I imagine how it is possible for everyone at the Daily News to not realize it as well, unless they are equally uneducated.

Tonight I begin an eight day series of evening pauses dedicated to the Apollo 11 mission, showing the key moments, as they happened. Rather than read some bad and often incorrect interpretation of this singular moment in human history, I am going to give you a chance to live it, as I did, fifty years ago.

Hat tip Jeff Bliss for the Daily News tweet. My readers know that I will not have anything to do with Twitter (which likely reduces my webpage traffic and likely my income as well), but I think it is designed to force people to act like a hateful and childish mob. Or exhibit their ignorance, which this tweet does so well.

My ethics will not allow me there. My observations repeatedly confirm for me the wisdom of this decision.

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SpaceX pinpoints cause of Dragon explosion during test

SpaceX today revealed that it has pinpointed the cause of the explosion that destroyed a Dragon manned capsule during an engine test in April.

The company believes that the problem originated with the Crew Dragon’s emergency abort system, which consists of a series of small thrusters embedded within the capsule. If all goes well during a mission, these tiny thrusters are never really meant to be used. But if there is some kind of failure during a future launch, the thrusters can ignite and carry the Crew Dragon safely away from a disintegrating rocket.

SpaceX says that a leaky valve caused the propellant needed for these thrusters to cross into another system — one of really high pressure. When this contamination occurred, the high forces slammed the liquid around, causing valuable components to fail and leading to the ultimate loss of the capsule.

Koenigsman said that this contamination definitely was not anticipated, though the kind of valve that leaked has been known to have some internal leakage problem. Ultimately, he acknowledged that, to some extent, this was a design issue. “It’s something that the components should not have done,” Koenigsman said. “But at the same time, we learned a very valuable lesson on something going forward, one that makes the Crew Dragon a safer vehicle.”
““it was a huge gift for us.” ”

SpaceX will replace all of these types of valves with another component known as a burst disk, which is supposed to be much more reliable, according to Koenigsman.

The company is still hoping to fly before the end of the year, but admits that this may not be possible. Right now they have a tentative launch date in November.

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Hayabusa-2: Carbon-rich asteroids too delicate to reach Earth surface

New data from Hayabusa-2 has confirmed the long-held suspicions of astronomers that the reason they find so few fragments of C-class asteroids, such as Ryugu, on Earth is because they are too delicate to reach the Earth’s surface.

Ryugu and other asteroids of the common ‘C-class’ [chondritic] consist of more porous material than was previously thought. Small fragments of their material are therefore too fragile to survive entry into the atmosphere in the event of a collision with Earth.

…Until now, only a few chondritic meteorites found on Earth have been identified as fragments of C-type asteroids, which are very common in the Solar System (‘C’ is the chemical symbol for the element carbon). …”We can now confirm that fragments of these asteroids are very likely to break up further when they enter Earth’s atmosphere, and then usually burn up completely. This means that only the largest fragments reach the Earth’s surface,” explains Grott. “That is why meteorites from this type of asteroid are so rarely found on Earth.”

The good news is that, because of this, Earth’s atmosphere offers increased protection from C-type asteroids, which account for 75 percent of all asteroids. …However, further research is necessary to determine the maximum asteroid size for which this atmospheric protection is effective.

It is likely that even the largest rubble-pile C-asteroids will not pose much risk. Even if some pieces reach the Earth’s surface they are probably going to be small and unable to do much harm.

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Modern Democratic Party McCarthyism

Are you a registered Democrat? Do you want to find out who you are really supporting? Then I think you need to watch Congressman Jesus Garcia (D-Illinois) two days ago during House hearing on the southern border crisis while questioning former ICE Director Tom Homan. He encapsulates perfectly the bigoted, hateful, and oppressive attitudes of the modern Democratic Party.

Most news sources have focused on Homan’s immediate visceral response, calling Garcia’s comments “disgusting.”

I think it more important to listen again to Garcia and his ugly slanderous and uncalled-for ad hominen attack on Homan’s character. My focus here is on the politicians now running the Democratic Party, not the ordinary citizens who are still registered Democrats and are unaware of the cruel, mean-spirited, and bigoted nature of those who now lead their party. If you still vote Democrat you need to know what you are voting for. It is not pretty, and it should make you ill.

I have therefore embedded the video of the exchange below, along with a transcript of Garcia’s words. Though my focus is on Garcia, it is worthwhile to watch the whole clip.

» Read more

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500 protesters block access road on Mauna Kea

About 500 protesters this morning blocked the access road on Mauna Kea that construction vehicles were going to use to begin construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT).

More than 500 protestors blocked Mauna Kea Access Road and chanted at the sun rose this morning, including seven who chained themselves to a cattle guard near the base of the road.

A convoy of state Department of Transportation vehicles carrying traffic control signage passed the intersection but made no effort to turn onto the access road.

More than a dozen elders with the protest movement sat on folding chairs and were joined by two protestors in wheelchairs at the bottom to the road as the crowd chanted and sang.

Police made no effort to disturb the protest. Gov. David Ige announced last week that the access road would be closed at 7 a.m. today to clear the way for heavy equipment for the controversial $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope.

Based on this report it sounds like the protesters have successfully prevented construction from beginning.

Several points: First, these protesters are breaking the law.

Second, these protesters had their day in court, and lost. In a civilized society, you accept such decisions. No civilization can function if some people think they will always get their way, even if the law and the majority rule against them.

Third, at this moment it appears that David Ige, the Democratic governor, is doing exactly what I expected. He is mouthing platitudes about supporting the law and the construction, while allowing the protesters to block it. Unless he takes action in the next day or so to remove the protesters and clear the road, the protests will grow and become unmanageable. At that point Ige will say that construction must be stopped to avoid bloodshed, and to honor the wishes of what must be a large percentage of the population.

That last part however is a lie. Polls have all indicated that the public wants TMT. And the law is on the public’s side here. It is Ige’s job to support both, not a small minority of unruly spoiled agitators.

Being a modern Democrat however, I expect Ige to favor the lawbreakers.

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Europe’s GPS-type constellation Galileo down

For as yet unexplained reasons, Europe’s entire Galileo constellation of GPS-type satellites has been out-of-operation for the past four days.

The European GNSS Agency (GSA), the organization in charge of Galileo, has not published any information in regards to the root of the outage, which began four days ago, on Thursday, July 11. On that day, the GSA published an advisory on its website alerting companies and government agencies employing the Galileo system that satellite signals have degraded and they “may not be available nor meet the minimum performance levels.” The agency warned that the Galileo system “should be employed at users’ own risk.”

The GSA published a more dire warning on Saturday, July 13, when it said that Galileo was experiencing a full-service outage and that “signals are not to be used.”

I cannot imagine any technical problem on the satellites themselves that would cause them all to fail at the same time. Instead, this appears to be some form of sabotage, a variation of the recent Russian tactic of disrupting GPS in areas they consider sensitive.

It also may explain the announcement yesterday by French president Macron that France is going to create its own space command.

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France to set up military space command within its Air Force

Copycat! French President Emmanuel Macron announced yesterday that he is proceeding with the creation of a space corp within this country’s air force.

Addressing military personnel a day before the Bastille Day parade, Macron said the new military doctrine setting up a space command would strengthen protection of French satellites. He said the investment involved had yet to determined. “To give substance to this doctrine and ensure the development and reinforcement of our space capabilities, a space command will be created next September in the air force,” Macron said, adding that it would later become the Space and Air Force.

Remember the ridicule heaped on Trump when he first proposed the need for reorganizing the U.S.’s military space operations into a single bureaucracy? He first pushed for a new military branch, but I think that was a negotiating tactic to force Congress and the Pentagon to act. As a result, it looks like the U.S. is almost certainly going to get a space corps as part of the Air Force, with all military space operations unified, as many in the military have been begging Washington to do for probably a decade. (This second link describes a bill by the Democratically-controlled House that includes authorization of the space corps, that has now been approved by the entire House.)

Now Macron recognizes the need to reorganize his military space operations as well. Surprise, surprise! Maybe those who kneejerk criticize Trump on everything should learn to think a bit before doing so. You might not agree with everything he does, but he is no fool, and there is almost always logic behind his actions.

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Two new science papers strongly question theory of man-made global warming

The uncertainty of science: Two new science papers, from researchers in Finland and Japan respectively, both strongly question the theory that human activity and the increase of carbon dioxide are causing global warming.

From the Finnish paper’s [pdf] conclusion:

We have proven that the [climate]-models used in IPCC report AR5 cannot compute correctly the natural component included in the observed global temperature. The reason is that the models fail to derive the influences of low cloud cover fraction on the global temperature. A too small natural component results in a too large portion for the contribution of the greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. That is why 6 J. KAUPPINEN AND P. MALMI IPCC represents the climate sensitivity more than one order of magnitude larger than our sensitivity 0.24°C. Because the anthropogenic portion in the increased CO2 is less than 10 %, we have practically no anthropogenic climate change. The low clouds control mainly the global temperature. [emphasis mine]

From the Japanese paper:

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has discussed the impact of cloud cover on climate in their evaluations, but this phenomenon has never been considered in climate predictions due to the insufficient physical understanding of it,” comments Professor Hyodo. “This study provides an opportunity to rethink the impact of clouds on climate. When galactic cosmic rays increase, so do low clouds, and when cosmic rays decrease clouds do as well, so climate warming may be caused by an opposite-umbrella effect. The umbrella effect caused by galactic cosmic rays is important when thinking about current global warming as well as the warm period of the medieval era.”

Essentially, both criticize the climate models for not considering changes in cloud cover and how those effect the global climate. The first paper looks back at the known climate data and compares it with known changes in cloud cover, and finds that cloud cover is a major factor in temperature changes.

The second paper looks at the causes for some of the changes in cloud cover, noting how the increase in galactic cosmic rays during the solar minimum can be tied to an increase in cloud cover, and thus colder temperatures.

Do these papers disprove man-made global warming caused by the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? Of course not. They just demonstrate again that the science here is very unsettled, that there are many large gaps in our knowledge, and that it would be foolish now to abandon western civilization and replace it with socialist totalitarian rule in order to prevent a disaster that either might not be happening, or if it is we may have no power to control.

I want to also point out that this post talks about scientists challenging the theory of man-made global warming. Attention must be paid to their conclusions. As for the ignorant opinions of politicians on this subject, who cares?

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Russia successfully launches Spektr-RG carrying two X-ray space telescopes

Russia today successfully used its Proton rocket to launch Spektr-RG, carrying two X-ray space telescopes.

Spektr-RG was first conceived in the 1990s, but got shelved then because Russia did not have the money to launch it. The project got revived in 2005 when the Germans came on to build one of the two telescopes.

“We had an ambitious plan for the project which didn’t correspond to the power of the country of that moment,” [lead scientist Mikhail] Pavlinsky told Spaceflight Now. “We decided to restart it with a smaller version.”

The Russian and German space agencies signed an agreement in 2009 to jointly develop the Spektr-RG mission, but the project faced additional schedule delays due to technical problems and a decision to switch the observatory from a Zenit launcher to a Proton rocket.

Designers also changed Spektr-RG’s observing location from an orbit around Earth to a looping trajectory around the L2 Lagrange point.

Spektr-RG is the largest Russian astronomy satellite to launch since the Spektr-R radio observatory in 2011. Spektr-R stopped responding to commands from the ground in January after exceeding its planned five-year mission lifetime, and Russian officials declared the mission over in April.

Spektr-RG’s planned mission is set for seven years.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

9 China
8 SpaceX
8 Russia
5 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. continues to lead China in the national rankings 14 to 9.

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Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter image of Curiosity

Curiosity as seen from orbit

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) science team today released an image taken on May 31, 2019 by the orbiter’s HiRISE high resolution camera of Curiosity when it was nestled against the cliff at the bottom of Vera Rubin Ridge.

The image above is that enhanced color image, reduced and annotated to post here. I have added the track of Curiosity’s route down from Vera Rubin Ridge leading up to the point where this picture was snapped.

In the image, Curiosity appears as a bluish speck. Vera Rubin Ridge cuts across the scene north of the rover, while a dark patch of sand lies to the northeast.

Look carefully at the inset image, and you can make out what it is likely Curiosity’s “head,” technically known as the remote sensing mast. A bright spot appears in the upper-left corner of the rover. At the time this image was acquired, the rover was facing 65 degrees counterclockwise from north, which would put the mast in about the right location to produce this bright spot.

Mirror-like reflections off smooth surfaces show up as especially bright spots in HiRISE images. For the camera to see these reflections on the rover, the Sun and MRO need to be in just the right locations. This enhanced-color image of Curiosity shows three or four distinct bright spots that are likely such reflections.

From this location Curiosity first continued along the cliff’s base to study that dark patch of sand to the northeast, then it turned almost due south in order to get back to its nominal route into Gediz Valles canyon, as shown in my May 30, 2019 rover update.

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Satire website bluntly but correctly summarizes Democratic Party policy

That website is the Babylon Bee, and the satirical article that does this is headlined: “California Governor Clarifies That Free Healthcare Only Offered To Illegal Immigrants Who’ve Made It Safely Out Of The Womb.”

The article opens with this quote:

California is offering free healthcare to illegal immigrants, once again becoming the first state in the nation to enact a wacky proposal that sounds like the right’s satire of the left and not an actual policy.

While satire, the article then goes on to describe quite accurately, though with an over-the-top bluntness, actual policy decisions in California that clearly represent modern Democratic policy, whereby the party puts first priority on giving free healthcare to illegal immigrants, people who broke the law to enter the country but are not U.S. citizens, while telling legal U.S. citizens that they will have to wait.

At the same time, the Democratic Party has become so radicalized on the issue of abortion that it now supports killing anything that is in the womb, right up until birth, and has also even advocated murder just after birth, which means, as noted by this satirical but accurate article, that illegal immigrants only get treated with compassion by Democrats after they are born.

The insanity and lack of intelligent thought illustrated here by the modern politicians of the Democratic Party should make every normal and sane registered Democrat rethink their support for this party. It has very much lost its way, and is now traveling down a very dangerous and evil path. A house-cleaning is desperately needed, so that it can maybe right itself and provide a reasonable alternative to the Republican Party.

The responsibility for that house-cleaning lies with the voters, especially Democrats. The question is whether they will do it. I pray that they will. I unfortunately do not see much solid evidence yet of that happening.

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Hayabusa-2’s second touchdown sample grab

Hayabusa touchdown sequence

The Hayabusa-2 science team yesterday released a series of close-up images taken just as the spacecraft touched down and then backed off from the surface of Ryugu.

I have cropped and annotated that sequence and placed all three images side-by-side above. The red arrows in the first two images highlight similar shadows in both pictures, with the appearance of dust visible in the lower center of the middle touchdown picture. I have not marked any comparable surface features in the third image because the uplift of material makes it too difficult.

That uplift however is exactly what the Hayabusa-2 science team needs, as it is some of this material that has hopefully been captured. Their fear was that this uplift posed a risk to the spacecraft itself, but they took precautions to minimize the risk and it appears that these precautions have worked.

We now must wait until the samples come back to Earth in December 2020 to see exactly what they caught.

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Hayabusa-2’s second touchdown an apparent success

Japan’s Hayabusa-2 probe has successfully completed its second touch-and-go sample grab on the asteroid Ryugu.

Japan’s Hayabusa2 successfully completed its second touchdown on the asteroid Ryugu and probably captured material from its interior that was exposed by firing a projectile into the asteroid earlier this year. It is the first collection of subsurface materials from a solar system body other than the moon.

Engineers and technicians in the spacecraft’s control room near Tokyo could be seen erupting into cheers and applause on a YouTube live stream when Project Manager Yuichi Tsuda proclaimed the operation a success just before 11 a.m. local time. At an afternoon press briefing, Tsuda said, “Everything went perfectly.” He joked that if a score of 100 indicated perfection, “I would give this a score of 1000.”

They will now begin the journey home, with the samples arriving on Earth in December 2020.

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Major management shake-up at NASA’s manned program

NASA today did a major shake-up in its manned program, most specifically relating to the management of its SLS/Orion program.

In a major shakeup at NASA Headquarters, agency Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Wednesday that Bill Gerstenmaier, the widely respected director of human spaceflight, has been replaced in the midst of an ambitious push to meet the Trump administration’s directive to send astronauts back to the moon within five years.

Effective immediately, Bridenstine wrote in a letter to agency employees, Ken Bowersox, a five-flight shuttle veteran, space station astronaut and Gerstenmaier’s deputy, will take over on an acting basis while Gerstenmaier serves as “special advisor” to NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard.

…Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development within HEO also has been replaced. A long-time NASA veteran, Hill helped manage development of the agency’s new heavy lift rocket, the Space Launch System, or SLS, needed to carry astronauts back to the moon.

While the long delays and cost overruns at both SLS and Orion can partly be blamed on micromanagement by Congress and a lack of interest by the previous Obama administration, the internal management by Gersternmaier and Hill during this time is also at fault. They have allowed these programs to drag on, and were in charge when numerous major screw ups occurred, from badly built test stands that went overbudget to dishonest budget manipulations to cracks in the first Orion capsule to contamination in SLS’s rocket engines to the dropping of an SLS oxygen tank to brittle and weak welds in those tanks to establishing an overall slow motion pace for construction of the entire project.

I suspect that this shake-up is linked to the story earlier this week where NASA hinted it was going to have to delay the first SLS launch for another year.

I wrote then that the Trump administration would not take kindly to such a new delay, even if it was justified so the agency could do a required full stack static fire test of SLS’s core stage. I am willing to bet that this shake-up occurred because Gertenmaier and Hill had finally revealed the need for this delay, and the shake-up was the Trump administration’s response.

This doesn’t mean that SLS won’t be delayed. It just means the Trump administration has decided it was time to put new people in charge.

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Arianespace Vega launch fails

The launch of a United Arab Emirates military satellite on an Arianespace Vega rocket failed tonight two minutes after liftoff.

Luce Fabreguettes, Arianespace’s executive vice president of missions, operations and purchasing, said the failure occurred around the time of ignition of the Vega rocket’s solid-fueled Zefiro 23 second stage.

“As you have seen, about two minutes after liftoff, around the Z23 (second stage) ignition, a major anomaly occurred, resulting in the loss of the mission,” Fabreguettes said. “On behalf of Arianespace, I wish to express our deepest apologies to our customers for the loss of their payload.”

Prior to this failure the Vega had flown fourteen times successfully since its inauguration in 2012.

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TMT construction begins July 15

According to a press announcement today from the governor’s office in Hawaii, construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope will finally begin during the week of July 15 following several years of delays due to protests.

The State Department of Transportation announced that Mauna Kea Access Road will be closed and there could be lane and other road closures associated with large equipment movement beginning July 15. In addition, hunting units A, K, and G in the Mauna Kea Forest Reserve area will be temporarily closed to hunting effective July 15. Both measures are being taken to ensure the safety and security of the public and personnel involved in moving equipment for the TMT project up the Mauna Kea Access Road.

Expect more protests. The real question is whether the Democratic governor David Ige can stand up to them, especially because these protesters have been using the kind of identity politics that the Democratic Party relies on. Ige would have to defy that, and I haven’t seen a Democrat do that in decades.

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